Dear esteemed readers, due to popular demand, we are repeating the interview with the Director-General of the Rivers State Bureau on Public Procurement, Mr Franklin Nlerum.
The trouble with governance in Nigeria, has been the inability or the reluctance of public officers to exhibit, even to some reasonable extent, a degree of openness and transparency in the conduct of public affairs especially when it concerns the general good of the citizenry.
This explains why many a Nigerian citizen still believe that nothing works and nothing will ever work in Nigeria nearly 50 years after its political independence from the British colonialists.
Yet, only seven months to Nigeria’s golden jubilee, there are a few Nigerian elite who still believe that out of the present seemingly hopeless situation a great and prosperous nation will emerge. One of such Nigerians is Barrister Franklin Nlerum who sits atop the Rivers State Bureau on Public Procurement (BoPP).
A seasoned lawyer and banker, Nlerum, who hails from Rumuokwurusi in Obio/Akpor Local Government Area of Rivers State, in an intellectually-ravishing session with The Tide Editorial Board members in the weekly personality programme, The Roundtable, canvassed unreservedly, the need for the elite and others entrusted with the responsibility of providing public goods to strictly play by the rules.
He said until that is done, the dream of building a virile and meaningful political super- structure hinged on a sound economic sub-structure in Nigeria, nay, Rivers State would remain a mirage.
A man of capacious intellect and deft navigational capability, Nlerum with an intellectual profundity, explained the workings of the BoPP, insisting that the society would be better for it if public men, and indeed, every stake holder exhibits some level of probity and accountability in matters of pubic good and interest.
What is the mandate of the Bureau?
The mandate of the Bureau is more like a preamble to the Rivers State public procurement law of 2006. It is an agency that supervises public procurement in the state and sets a standard within a legal framework, harmonising existing policies that essentially sum up what the Bureau does. The core of what the Bureau does also derives from section 14 of the law, which stresses the need to ensure value for money, competence and purpose in procurement. It is also to ensure efficiency in the economy and in the provision of goods and services. So essentially, the mandate is to ensure that every money spent by the state translates into benefit to the people of the state.
Being a new organisation, how has the Bureau been able to cope with its mandate under the current democratic experiment?
Well, like every organisation, when you are building you have different challenges. Challenges are also an opportunity because nothing is stopping you from building and competing. I usually tell most of my colleagues that we are privileged, privileged because, as pioneers, we have the opportunity and benefit of leaving our footprints. The challenges will mean that we must have new way of doing things. The essence of what is being done now has been part of the system in the past. I think our basic challenge is actually the problem of chain management because we are transiting from a regime where people do things the way they deem fit to a regime where you are asked to do things according to a certain specified standard. It is natural for people to refuse it. However, this is a change that has come to stay. We just need to engage every stakeholder to ensure that the objectives are achieved.
Does the bureau really have the support of the state government?
Relatively yes, I think the Bureau of Public Procurement at the federal level is not enjoying the kind of support we have in Rivers State.
Here, in Rivers State, between the Governor and the House committee that is over seeing the affairs of the Bureau, we have the support that gives us the responsibility to do what is right. The limitation is natural. When you are handling chain management, anybody who is conversant with chain management will realise that you need to first sell the products, to exercise the new order before you begin to ensure compliance. So, the necessary support from the highest quarters is available to the Bureau.
It is believed that BoPP delays public procurement. How true?
Very interesting question. This claim is not peculiar to the Nigerian system. In February, I was in Ethiopia for a workshop on public procurement for Sub Sahara countries, and naturally everywhere, the claims and allegations were uniform, that the authority in Ghana or other places as the agency is called are responsible for the delay in public procurement. But it would be too simple to say no. Lets look at the crux of the bottleneck. Let me illustrate with the Ministry of Education. Government is providing uniforms for students, rather than apply, you wrote a letter saying, the government wants to provide uniforms for the students and that N272 million is required to provide the uniforms and that the Bureau should consent to it. Now, the Bureau is not Franklin Nlerum who is not even a board member. The Bureau is a legal entity and must operate within the framework of the law setting it up. And the law requires that if you must spend the money belonging to the state, there are certain steps you must take. As a general principle, every expenditure must proceed from what we call open competitive bidding. So, you need to advertise, alternatively there are exceptional situation the law recognises. If you do not do open bidding, open bidding will take at least six weeks for advert period. Such bidding is called direct procurement or single sourcing. Now the application or letter never refers to any means of requirement when it comes to us, we have to reply and ask them what they want and how they are going about it. When the letter goes back to the Ministry, a week or two must have been lost, and by the time it gets to the public domain, nobody is telling you that the law is not being followed.
Secondly, there is the problem of budget implementation which is the
absence of procurement planning. If you want to spend money. You need to think through it. Even your personal money. What is the necessity for the
money? What is the necessity for the expenditure? How do you want to spend it? In the case of a state, within the broad frame of administration, the needs are known. Provision of primary health centres are known. So before the budget for the year, the Ministry or procurement entity should as provided by law, prepare a procurement plan. Upon the application from the House of Assembly, we will implement. However, these things are not done and somebody wakes up and say there is flooding problem. Flooding problem is not an organised problem, it is a problem that has been observed. It is either because that the urban planning rules are not respected or the environmental degradation leading to people dumping waste in the waterway. When you come under the flooding problems, you must show that every consideration for effectively dealing with the flooding problem has been taken into an account. You just do not come and say there is flooding problem along Iloabuchi and therefore we have to de-flood. You must show us that the de-flooding must solve the problem. So you find out that the delay is caused by the adhoc nature in which we undertake government business and the unwillingness on the part of a number of officials in the procurement entity to follow the rules. May be, by the time we try it, we may actually get to the point of putting the Bureau on the spot. You are the one delaying. I think when we get the opportunity like this, we let the people of the state hear our own side of the story. They begin to know whether the delay is coming from the Bureau or from the procurement entities.
What will it profit us to keep their applications or delay them? Ultimately, what we are here to do is to serve the people of the state, so it is actually a partnership, but the issue is that there are people at different points with a value chain, everybody has different functions. It is necessary to appreciate what each person or agency is bringing to the table so that they will run a smooth course in a manner that at the end the intended objective is realised.
Is Due Process actually working in Rivers State?
Well, I believe that the taste of the food is in the eating. We intend to engage the public and explain to them what we are doing and the role expected of them. Due process is working because there are transactions. Projects that are being undertaken now ordinarily have been there. Before the Bureau was set up, nobody questioned any contractor with respect to design and pricing. no longer so. There is a project going on at Ken Saro Wiwa road. On the basis of the review of the design, further access road as a relief road from Aba road had been added. When that is completed, people using the road will begin to see the benefit. But if these things are without an agency that will look back and ask, Ok, this is what we want to do, what is the ultimate benefit? Or how does it solve the problem of traffic congestion? It would not be proper that you have done a beautiful road but yet, there are still traffic congestion. So, when you play that relief role, it is the function of understanding that the road you are constructing must be fit for a purpose and the fact that the drainage problem around there are things that should thoroughly be dealt with. In this way, the roads that are being constructed will be durable and will serve a purpose.
Secondly, when we do our price intelligence work, we save public money. If you go into savings and this savings translate to funds available for other projects in the state, the state as a whole is better for it. It is entirely possible that some of the things that government is currently doing may not have been done if not for the existence of the Bureau. I will give you an example. The Special Assistant to the Governor on Millennium Development Goals costed the funding for 50 hospitals but because he (the S.A.) had elected to follow the steps outlined in the law, he was able to equip 66 hospitals. I think these are the kind of things people should know. That when you follow those steps outlined in the law, there are benefits that reach the people because by following the processes, we were able to extend the reach of the contract available.
Does BoPP really punish defaulters?
We would be reluctant to punish defaulters now. But it is about time we started enforcing the law. When you want to handle chain management, sanctions and punishment should not be the central focus, if it becomes the central focus, you will get an atmosphere that may undermine its real intention. The intention of the law is not about putting people in prison, but we will do that as it stands now. That is the direction we will head to. The intention of the law is to create a level of awareness that everybody begins to think towards the resources of the state as if it is personal resources. After all, it belongs to all of us. Government comes and goes. Take for example, you want to construct a road, you have to consider the whole life of the road both in the time and execution. Should the road be constructed and after six months or nine months, it fails? Is that what the road should be? Why is the road failing? We need to get people to understand that doing there job thoroughly is actually a service to themselves. When that fails or not being realised then, the punitive provision of the law comes in.
And when you find persistent reluctance, that is when there is a refusal, failure or inability to do what is right, the consequence follows naturally. To that extent, we are not forthcoming with saying that this number of procurement entity has violated or offended the law.
What other steps can you take without prosecuting offenders?
We have cancelled a number of transactions. You may have heard that a rural electrification process was completed where as it was not completed. Since it did not comply with the law we cancelled it and asked the contractors to recommence the process.
How much have your Bureau been able to save for the state?
Just like we are reluctant to carry out any punitive measures against defaulters, we have also chosen not to be advertising the savings. But between the Ministry of Budget and Economic Planning, and Ministry of Finance, they know the savings and in our annual report which will be out at the end of this month, we will show it. We have consistently said at every occasion we talk to the press that our focus is not on the savings. The savings are just bye-products of doing what is right and what is expected of us. By the law, if we continue to monitor, review, guide, vet and certify products, we will always have savings for the state and we are making them.
Between June and December 2009, projects certified in Rivers State have saved over N15 billion for the state.
And in the last three months, about N5 billion was saved.
How do you check excessive spending by the executive?
I am sure you are aware that Governor was the former Speaker of the Rivers House of Assembly. Ordinarily, that means that we should be cautious of not allowing the Executive to get out of line.
Certainly, we do not certify a project without an evidence of budget clearance. And budget clearance cannot be a proposal; it must be budget that has been passed by the state House of Assembly. So, budget clearance is a statutory requirement for the certification of projects. We can say that no budget can be undertaken without going through the Bureau and without the approval of the House of Assembly. It is only approval of the House of Assembly that forms the basis of certification by the Commissioner for Budget and Economic Planning. On the duplication of projects, unfortunately, that is one area we are having some challenges. And that is why between March 29 and April 1, 2009 the Bureau will be holding a workshop on public procurement planning on their part the local government areas have been operating as if they exist in isolation with total disregard to the law and they undertake projects that cannot stand the test of time.
When a local government is doing a project they should show us specification why they should proceed even though we can not actually compel harmonisation of projects. But if, for instance, a local government would want to build a health centre, it must state why it wants to do so when the state government is building several health centres in all the local government areas.
Nigerian Worker And The Quest For A Living Wage
Mrs Grace Dada, an Administrative Officer II, is on level 8 step 2 in one of the Federal Ministries in Abuja. Dada earns N36,000 monthly.
Though the 32-year-old mother of two had worked with her Ordinary National Diploma (OND) for some years, her current status is at par with that of a fresh university graduate newly coming into the federal civil service.
Dada’s husband, Joe, 36, has been out of job for six years since the newspaper where he was a reporter folded up. The wife is the breadwinner of this family that is living in a “one-room-self-contained” in Kubwa Village.
Kubwa, a satellite town of the FCT, is 35 kilometres away from Abuja city center and the ministries. But it is also where the Dadas can afford a 10ft by 10ft room with a yearly rent of N150,000.
It has its private conveniences – a tiny toilet/bathroom and a kitchen. It is a self-contained apartment!
“The rent alone takes about half of my salary. But, I am aware that I would be asked to cough out between N300,000 and N500,000 for the same apartment in Abuja city.
“If not for the ministry’s staff bus, I would have gone berserk because Abuja to and from Kubwa costs about N400″, Dada explains.
However, the worst of her worries is giving the children a good education.
“Everyday I pray that things would change for the better soon. At six and three, my sons are in primary one and kindergarten in a low-fee-paying school in Kubwa. The public schools are free but they lack standard and infrastructure.
“Already, I am owing a term’s fee on my children. My saving grace is that their school’s proprietor is my church member.
”I am afraid of how to give my boys good education later in life. My mother in-law is for more grandchildren. But I and my husband know it would be a stupid move as we are yet to adequately cater for ourselves and our two sons,” Dada says.
The Dadas paint the picture of the average Nigerian government worker’s family. The lowest salary or minimum wage is N7,500 or 50 dollars a month. That is at the federal level; the state and local governments pay lower wages.
Rice, which has become the staple food of Nigerians, costs between N9,000 and N12,000 a bag – more than the minimum wage. Hence, most workers do not just live from-hand-to-mouth but go borrowing.
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) – the umbrella body for workers’ unions — is at the vanguard of the demand for a N52,000 (US$360) minimum wage for federal workers. The NLC says this will be minimum “living wage”.
Though low compared to salaries and wages worldwide, the N52,000 minimum living wage is expected to bring smile and dignity back to junior civil servants.
A living wage is considered an emolument on which it is possible for a wage earner or an individual and his or her family to live, at least according to minimum customary standards. It is also defined as a wage sufficient to provide minimal satisfactory living conditions.
In 2009, the organised labour held series of rallies to sensitise Nigerians on the ills inherent in government foot-dragging in approving a minimum living wage.
Abdulwahed Omar, President of the NLC said the demand for a new minimum wage became necessary given the current high cost of living.
Omar wondered why Nigeria, an oil-producing nation, should be paying one of the lowest wages in the world to workers in its civil service.
“This is true when taken against the absolute national currency as well as wages and salaries based on Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) which adjusts the national currency for the differential cost of living of the relevant nations.
“It was in recognition of how bad the situation was that led the NLC to demand for wage increase during the President Olusegun Obasanjo regime, which culminated in the signing of an agreement aimed at providing a living wage within three years’’.
Omar, however, argued that the consequences of the abdication of the agreed approach to the implementation of the phased wage increases had been sharply depressed wages and salaries.
According to him, since the 15 per cent increase within the framework of wages and salary consolidation, a number of developments have further depressed the actual take-home pay of workers.
“Inflation has intensified in the last one year, with the cost of living index in the urban sector increasing by over 14 per cent.
“The disproportionate increase (20.9 per cent) in the cost of food means that the erosion in the real wages and salaries of workers is alarmingly severe.
“The process of monetising and consolidating in-kind, benefits which were hitherto not taxed has resulted in an escalation of the tax paid by workers. This has further depressed the real take-home pay of workers’’, Omar added.
Labour is further spurred to ask for increased wages because public appointees and political office holders earn even much better than the living wage in comparison.
Labour said it was surprisingly that political office holders have been able to increase their own wages and allowances by over 800 in recent times while those of civil servants were being further eroded by a higher tax regime.
A document on Remuneration Packages for Political, Public and Judicial Office Holders in Nigeria, said theirs was “a function of changes in the basic fundamentals of the Nigerian economy, external reserves, Gross Domestic Product (GDP), growth rate, rate of inflation and the need for a living wage”.
Labour argued that apart from the erosion in the real take-home pay of workers, the relativity in the economy was quite skewed against the working class.
“A comparison of workers’ pay to that of political office holders within the same public sector does not suggest that there is a rationale or principle guarding salary and wages in Nigeria.
“While workers’ salaries increased by only 15 percent between 2006 and 2007, those of political office holders increased by over 800 percent’’, labour said.
Workers in the public service recently threatened to commence an indefinite nation-wide strike over what they termed as poor remuneration and the refusal of the Federal Government to accede to their request for salary increase.
These workers emerge from eight unions in the public service, under the Joint National Public Service Negotiating Council (JNPSNC).
Chairman of the JNPSNC, Olakunle Olaitan, opined that currently, there was a serious problem of disparity in salaries and wages payable for work of substantial equal value within the public service.
Olaitan said the last increment in the salary of certain political, public and judicial public office holders affected only the permanent secretaries and left other categories of workers from the directorate cadre downwards with their previous meager salary.
He disclosed that currently “while a permanent secretary receives N1.34 million per month, a director — next to him in rank — receives N145, 150 per month”.
According to him, this has affected morale and goes against the consolidated salary structure based on the existing relativity in the public service.
He further explained that based on the public /civil service system and the consolidated salary structure, a director should earn 50.86 per cent of a permanent secretary’s salary.
In its bid to assuage workers’ frayed nerves, the Federal Government has inaugurated a tripartite committee on a new national minimum wage. It is being chaired by a retired Chief Justice of Nigeria, Alfa Belgore.
At the inauguration of the committee, Alhaji Yayale Ahmed, Secretary to the Government of the Federation implored it to address the needs of the Nigerian worker for a decent life.
“This committee has been inaugurated in the context of profound changes in the global economy, of which we are important as a national economy.
“This has made it necessary to consider the demand by organised labour with great care”, Ahmed said.
Also, the immediate past Minister of Labour and Productivity, Prince Adetokunbo Kayode, said the inauguration of the committee was to kick-off the Federal Government effort at ensuring that Nigerians earn appropriate income.
Kayode said the committee was expected to review the current remuneration of workers and come up with suggestions to the government, taking into consideration the prevailing economic realities within the global space.
“The committee will be saddled with the responsibilities of looking at all the facts that concern salary issue in Nigeria and make suggestions to government on what should be acceptable.
“This suggestion would have to look at the prevailing economic circumstances in the world today because there is what is called ability to pay for sustainability sake”, he said.
However, seven months after the inauguration of the committee, workers are complaining that it was foot dragging on taking a decision on a new minimum wage.
Mr Solomon Onaghinon, General Secretary of the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN), said the committee should treat the issue as a matter of urgency.
In the same vein, the President, Chartered Institute of Personnel Management of Nigeria (CIPM), Dr. Oladimeji Alo, argued that minimum wage in the developed world was always anchored on the inflation index and reviewed automatically, perhaps, once in two years.
“You don’t wait for several years until it becomes an issue; that is what we call employer’s advocacy in the private sector.
“The Human Resources Manager is supposed to advise management not to wait until the wage structure becomes outdated, until people stop coming to work, before reviewing the salaries.
“Government needs to be proactive, that is what is lacking in the public sector. Government waits so long until the minimum wage becomes relevant, before taking action.
“We as an institute, are fully in support of a review in the minimum wage to take account of the major decline in the purchasing power of the old minimum wage”, Alo said.
The current tension in the labour sector will be doused by a quick and favourable recommendation to government on the minimum wage and other civil servants’ take-home pay.
Mohammed writes with NAN
‘NIOB Has Been Vocal On Building, Construction’
The Nigerian Institute of Building (NIOB) is the professional body for builders and those who are about to be engaged in the building profession.
The institute has its origin in a similar body called the “Builders which was formed in 1834 by a number of prominent Builder in London. The Builder’ Society later became the Institute of Building in the United Kingdom which later became the Chartered Institute of Building in 1980 and now the Institute for the Management of Construction.
Nigeria became the firs overseas centre of the Institute of Building in 1967. the Nigerian centre of the institute of Building became autonomous on November 5, 1970 and from then acquired the name “The Nigerian Institute of Building (NIOB).
The institute holds its 49th 2019 Builders National Convention and Annual General Meeting in Port Harcourt today and will end on August 9, 2019.
The convention is expected to draw participants from across the nation. The State Chairman of the institute and the Local Organising Committee ( LOC), Builder Akinola Bammieke spoke with The Tide correspondent, Ike Wigodo on the forthcoming convention and its importance in town planing in Rivers State among many other issues. Excerpts
Sir, you are the state Chairman of NIOB in Rivers State and also the LOC Chairman of this year’s National Convention of the institute holding in Rivers State. What is the purpose and reason for hosting it in the State?
The purpose is to educate the public on the roles of builders in the building industry, create awareness on same and emphasise the need for safety in all our operations. The decision to host the conference was made two years ago and the reason is that NIOB wants a paradigm shift in the building industry planning, approval and execution processes in the State. Driving into Rivers State gives you the impression that we need more planned environment. The problems we are facing in the industry are man-made. However, we must confess that the government is trying its best but more needs to be done.
What is the theme of this year’s National Convention?
We have tagged this year’s convention as health, safety, environment and professionalism for sustainable development in the construction industry.
Sir, NIOB has been silent over building construction and lack of town planning in Rivers State. What measure should be taken towards that?
NIOB has not been silent. The institute has been vocal on the subject of building and construction. Definitely, there is a ministry in charge of planning which is the Ministry of Urban Development. However, the ministry is not properly structured and staffed. The ministry should be split into two; the planning is Physical Planning Department) and the construction department ( Building Control Department).
The Control Department must be headed by a registered builder while the planning department must have registered builders too. The regulator of the building profession is the Council of Registered Builders of Nigeria. No one is permitted to engage in building practices without meeting the requirements of the law pursuant to “ Builders Registration Act Cap.B13LFN 2004 ( formerly known as Decree No 45 of 1989). Section 19 (1) of the Builders ( Registration, etc.) Act states thus: 19(1) Any person, not being a registered builder who (a) for or in expectation of reward, practise or holds himself out to practise as such; or (b) without reasonable excuse, takes or uses any name, title, addition or description implying that he is authorised by law to practise as a registered builder, commits an offence punishable under this Act.
What should Nigerians expect before and after the programme?
Expect intensive media campaign and public awareness programmes on the role builders in the building industry. I believe you must have seen our billboards all over the places and heard our jingles on radio stations. After the convention, expect more intensive engagement with all stakeholders in the building industry.
The Ministry of Urban Development and Physical Planning in Rivers State, have they been able to meet the expectations as required by law?.
The answer is capital NO. It is not enough to approve building plans, most important thing is to monitor the approval made to ensure it is what has been approved. This will also help to check collapse of buildings across the nation.
How far has government been able to implement and comply with the Building it meets what has been approved Code.
On implementation, more needs to be done. Specifically, we want enforcement of the Builders Registration Act.
Please, give a general view of your take about NIOB, government and the public?
Generally, builders are specialists. The building profession is a specialisation. Just like some professions are going into specialisation right from the first degree in higher institutions. Building as a course of study was among the very first. The world is changing and specialization is what would deliver the cutting edge. Government needs to enforce the laws and the public need to obey it.
What is your message to the people?
The NIOB uses this medium to invite the public to the conference. We are privileged to host the institute in the state. The business environment in the state is very rewarding one. Major construction activities dot the landscape. The government has equally invested in infrastructure development across the state. We encourage you to take advantage of the beautiful tourist attractions on offer in our state such as the Tourist Beach,Isaac Boro Park, Amiesimaka Stadium, Port Harcourt Zoo, Port Harcourt Mall ( SPAR) to name a few.
“It is noteworthy that this singular achievement of the Nigeria Centre acted as a catalyst for the establishment of other autonomous overseas centres of the Institute of Building (U.K) in Australia, Canada, South Africa, Ghana and Kenya, to name a few.
In 1974, the NIOB began the struggle for official recognition in form of statutory Registration Council for Professional Builders. Through the relentless effort of NIOB, the Federal Military Government signed into law the Builder’ (Registration etc) Decree No 45 of 1989 (then ACT CAP 40) to establish the Council of Registered Builders of Nigeria (CORBON) on December 15th 1989 and the Council was officially inaugurated on 24th April, 1990.
The Law gave statutory backing to “Building” as a distinct profession in Nigeria as obtainable in the U.K., Canada, South Africa, Kenya, Australia, etc. the Law also recognizes The Nigerian Institute of Building as the only professional body for those engaged or about to be engaged in the building profession. Since the statutory backing of Building as a profession in Nigeria by Builder’s (Registration etc) Decree 45 of 1989 (now B.13 LFN, 2004). The Institute has done a lot for the development of the profession, its members, the government and the Nigerian public. .
Some of the Institute’s objectives as set out in constitution of the Institute include the following:
· To promote the Science and Practice of Building Technology, Building Maintenance, Building Surveying, Building Production/Construction Management and Project Management including all research and publication of the results for public benefit.
·To establish and maintain a high standard of competence and conduct of those engaged or about to be engaged in the said Science and practice of Building and the education and research connected therewith.
·To provide a forum for meeting and discussing matters of mutual interest to professional Builders in Nigeria and to preserve and further the interest of those within.
· To promote and stimulate the improvement of the technical and general knowledge of persons engaged or training to engaged in the Building profession.
·To make available information on matters affecting the Building Profession in Nigeria and abroad.
· To promote an understanding of the Building profession among members of the public and to confer with all professionals and other bodies within the construction industry and to act as the sole authority in the Federation of Nigeria with regards to all matter affecting the profession.
·To act as body which the Government or other official or unofficial authorities or organization(s) in Nigeria can seek advice, assistance or the expression of views on any subjects of concern or interest, to the Building profession in Nigeria.
Rivers: Rebranding ‘#OurStateOurResponsibility’ -Nsirim
Last Thursday, the Permanent Secretary, Rivers State Ministry of Information and Communications, Pastor Paulinus Nsirim, paid a working visit to the Rivers State Newspaper Corporation (publishers of The Tide) to officially launch a new campaign, “#OurStateOurResponsibility”, designed to rebrand and correct the negative narrative by the vocal minority about the state. In this interview with some members of the Editorial Board: Chairman, Goodluck Ukwe; Group News Editor, Nelson Chukwudi; Business Editor, Boye Salau; Group Sports Editor, Gabriel Nwanetanya; and Acting Op-Ed/Features Editor, Arnold Alalibo, last Friday, Nsirim elucidates on the motivation for the campaign, strategy, drivers, goals, stakeholder groups collaborating to achieve desired results, and much more. Head of Photographic Unit, Ibioye Diama, captured the scenes. Excerpts.
We are much aware of the series of branding and rebranding by successive administrations. We recall the last one that the former Commissioner for Information and Communications, Mrs Ibim Semenitari did. It was all about branding and rebranding of the state. How far that one went, we can’t say. So, what is the difference between the new campaign and the one we had in the past?
I will just correct one impression. Rivers State is a brand. Rebranding and rebranding does not exist because you have a brand. What happens concerning the brand is that at every point in the history of the state, new strategies are brought in to promote the brand.
If you take the example of Coca Cola, every day, you see new adverts; it has not changed the brand ‘Coca Cola’. What we are doing now is a new strategy to promote the Rivers brand. And if you ask: what is the difference? I will tell you clearly that the difference will be in terms of the modus operandi of this campaign. We are starting with meeting with the various stakeholder groups as a way of buying into it; because the reason why some campaigns fail is that the major stakeholder groups that are supposed to be part of the campaign are not involved. That is, for example, the reason why we are starting with the media. The media are going to be the agenda setters. The media will be setting the agenda while we begin to engage other stakeholder groups.
It is a campaign that will run in phases. What we are doing now is a kind of advocacy. It is going to have so many levels. That is why this one is different. Before, what we saw is that may be something was launched, now, we are not doing a launching, but we are just saying we are trying to reposition the Rivers State brand and this is the plan, this is the catch phrase.
If you look at the catch phrase: “#OurStateOurResponsibility”, you will understand that this is really tailored to be people-centred. The catch phrase of this campaign alone shows that it is going to be people-centred. When people understand that they are part of a project, implementation wouldn’t be a problem.
Today (last Friday), the governor signed three bills into law. One of them is the prohibition of street trading and others. This campaign will also key into it because it is our state; it is our responsibility to keep the state clean, to be off the streets, to do what is right. You can see that it is a people centred campaign, and because it is people centred, I am very optimistic that it is going to succeed.
You alleged that there are minority vocal groups trying to de-market the state, using some media to paint the state black. What are you doing to reach out to those people and make them part of the campaign?
Everybody will be part of it (campaign). That is why it is going to be in phases. As we finish with the state media houses, we are going to the private media houses in the state. It is also going to take us out of the state to involve the media.
I am proud of the brand. The Rivers brand is one in a million. This is because we are blessed with the natural resources, we are blessed with the infrastructures and we are blessed with a welcoming state. I don’t know anywhere in the world where people are hospitable like the Rivers people. In this state, we are hospitable people. Whatever you talk about a Rivers man, there is a spirit in us that accepts visitors. While growing up, I used to see my mother entertaining visitors with food. If an artisan, wherever he comes from, comes to work for my mother in the village, she would pay him and insist that he eats her food. That is what we are.
Do you also consider the logistics involved in this campaign? Because for me, it is massive!
Yea, it is, but what we have going for us is that presently, His Excellency, Chief Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, the Governor of Rivers State has carved a niche for himself in Governance. It is only a bad product that is usually hard to sell. We have a good brand in the governor himself. He has distinguished himself as a people’s leader. He has demonstrated in the last four years that he has the capacity to give the people of Rivers State good governance, and of course, the numerous local and international awards he has received attest to the fact that this man is really doing the business. We have the goodwill of the governor and we have the goodwill of this ministry. I believe there are many doors you can open in this country today with goodwill and that is in abundance.
Do you also consider the sustainability of this campaign, in case tomorrow you are moved from this ministry to another ministry?
Let me assure you that the various directorates in this ministry are properly positioned for this campaign, perchance I am posted out. Because of the philosophy of this ministry and because the directors in this ministry have already bought into this project, it will be difficult for any right thinking person to abandon it. This campaign just started three days ago, but I can tell you, a lot of people have already embraced it. But I can tell you that even on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Scannews, I was told today, the burse concerning this has been massive. It is only somebody who is insane, that will say a good product like this will not sell.
Gentlemen, I must say, this is a breath of fresh air in the state because it is like people have been looking for a rallying point where they can aggregate their views or opinions. But now, the Ministry of Information is providing that platform for the people to have a voice to tell their story.
Sir, the hashtag, ‘#OurStateOurResponsibility’, can you throw more light on that catch phrase?
Initially, I said that this is a people-centred campaign. If you live and do business here, this is your home; this is your state, and whatever happens here, whether for good or for ill, affects you. So, we all need to work together as people living and doing business here, to promote the interest of the state. Everybody living and doing business here is a stakeholder. I think that sums it: Everybody living and doing business here is a stakeholder, and we all need to realise that when things begin to move in the right direction, because you live and do business here, you will be a beneficiary. And people need to be told that. What is happening now is that some people are behaving like the proverbial monkey that saw trees falling in the forest and was laughing: ‘trees are falling oooh, hahaha’; until all the trees finished falling, then it realised that it was its house that was falling. So, we want to do that re-orientation for people to understand that when you hear anything negative about Rivers State, be concerned because it will affect you one way or the other. Do something to correct that negative impression by cascading the positive aspect of the state.
For record purposes, what informed this advocacy, and why now?
What informed this advocacy is that we in the Ministry of Information and Communications feel concerned that our story as a state is not being heard. Our voice as a people is not being heard. A lot of good things are happening here, but the minority vocal voices are drowning the good things that are happening here. So, we said no, we need to change the narrative. Any sincere person living and doing business here knows that a lot has happened within the last four years. And we are thinking now, the governor is into his second term, we need more people on board the Ship of State, because despite the distractions of the first term, the man was focused to deliver the dividends of democracy to Rivers people. Now is the time, and fortunately, because the governor is a team player, on winning the election, he extended the Olive Branch to the opposition. A few appointments he has made within the last few months, people in the opposition are part of it. So, it is a project tailored to say ‘look, everybody should come on board; we all have a stake, let’s do it together’.
From our understanding, this advocacy is the brainchild of your ministry. What efforts are you making to reach out to other ministries to key in so as to achieve the set goal of rebranding the state?
That is why I said that this is in phases. In fact, informally, I have engaged all the permanent secretaries in the various ministries. Even today, I have posted some information on our WhatsApp platform, and people are reacting to it. The campaign is going to be in phases. The media was chosen first, like I mentioned earlier, to help us set the agenda. Every major stakeholder group will be part of this project in the final analysis.
You have talked of the de-marketing of the state by some disgruntled elements or minority group. Has the government been able to identify this minority group or detractors of the state?
I don’t understand what you mean by if government has identified the people de-marketing the state. You are in the media, and you know these people. It is not difficult for any person with genuine interest in the good of the state to identify them. You know them, and everyone here knows who they are. Rivers people know who they are!
The governor, after the March 9 election, offered the Olive Branch to those antagonists in the opposition to sheathe their sword and join him to build and move the state forward. Do you think between that time and now, those elements are still prosecuting their campaign to de-market the state? Or put differently, do you think this campaign still has something to achieve given that it is expected by now that those antagonists would have changed their strategies, and joined the governor to move the state forward?
Well, you are in the media. I just alluded to that fact. Of course, we all know that they are still de-marketing the state. No one needs to be told that the detractors of the state are still prosecuting their nefarious smear campaign against the state. You can read, see and hear it on all the media platforms: the newspapers, radios, televisions, and even the social media. They are still actively going on with their negative campaign as if it is still business as usual. That is why we are doing this! We need to tell them, and indeed, the outside world and, especially the business community and tourists that a lot of positive things are happening here, and that this state is hospitable, secure and safe for business.
When you have a project of this nature, you also need to localise it and make sure that the rural dwellers are carried along. And because we have a large illiterate population in the rural areas, you are supposed to have an inclusive strategy with special communication module or approach to reach them. How do you plan to sell this Rivers brand to the rural folks to secure their buy-in? Or you want to concentrate your campaign in the urban centres only?
Thank you very much. The various stakeholder groups are involved in this effort, and we can’t list them all here: the traditional institution, market women, artisans, transporters, farmers, fishermen, professionals in various fields, politicians, private and public sector workers, entrepreneurs, small and medium scale businessmen and women, investors, you name them – all stakeholders are important in this campaign, and all will be reached. In fact, we are going to collaborate with all people living and doing business in this state, including corporate bodies and non-governmental organisations to achieve our mandate of making “#OurStateOurResponsibility”.
I have said it before: We are going to engage all stakeholder groups up to the grassroots because of what we are trying to do for this state; we need everybody on board. I told them at Garden City Radio today, that I want posterity to judge us kindly. We cannot stand aloof. We have a heritage as a people. We have a heritage which is rich in culture and tradition. And we have core values as a people. We respect people, especially visitors. We are hospitable and accommodating. We are welcoming and friendly. We like to share whatever we have with others, especially visitors. We are peace-loving and tolerant. And we cannot afford to lose our heritage and values. So, all those stakeholder groups we have in mind are going to be reached with the message of “OurStateOurResponsibility”. They have to buy in, take ownership of it and ensure that they promote the message that our state is our responsibility. They must protect it. They must promote it anywhere they are. It is in phases, and everyone will be reached. And because all of you in the media will be part of it, you will see how the campaign will go, and the tremendous results we will get.
Whenever government comes up with something like this, people are always skeptical. What plans do you have to convince skeptics that this time around, it is for real?
If you followed our conversation, I said that it is only a bad product that is usually difficult to sell. But Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike is a good product! One thing you cannot take away from this governor is that he keeps his promises. When he came on board, he promised Rivers people that for every promise he will make, he will fulfill. He also told them that every project of critical importance to their well-being and interest that was abandoned by the previous administrations, he will complete. He has kept faith with those promises. And that integrity and character of His Excellency, the Governor of Rivers State, Chief Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, is a major selling point for us in this campaign.
We are saying to people: we have a Brand in Governor Wike. In the past four years, whatever he said he will do, he has done. Come on board and join him. Yes, skeptics may still be lurking here and there, but every person living and doing business in the state can attest to the fact that he has kept his promises. He has won the confidence and trust of Rivers people. And they believe in him, because he has worked hard to protect and defend their interest at all levels. They know that the man who is saddled with the responsibility as the governor is not somebody who plays to the gallery. He is a man of his words. He walks the talk!
Are you envisaging any challenges in the course of prosecuting this task?
As an individual, I don’t envisage any challenges. Even so, for me, challenges are usually stepping stones. They are opportunities that enable you actualise your ambition. A vision that does not have challenges is not a realistic vision. But if you set your eyes at the goal, those challenges eventually turn out to be stepping stones to success. So, I don’t worry about challenges; I care more about the opportunities that those challenges throw up, and I work hard to take advantage of them to achieve my goals.
First, is on social media. You know that a campaign like this will work perfectly well and reach out to a wider audience, locally and internationally, if you have an active Social Media component. While designing this campaign, did you factor in the social media platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and an effective management system for them? Do you have official social media pages on these platforms specifically dedicated to drive this campaign?
Thank you very much. To allay your fears, I will say yes. We are already working with social media influencers in the state to escalate the advocacy. Some are doing something on Twitter, some on Facebook, and some on Instagram through their own verified accounts and handles. Even the Online Media are also posting some of the things we have done as part of the campaign to help us communicate the message through the Internet. But we have not created our own Pages on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. That will be done today, shortly after this session. It is important that we create our own official Social Media Pages and Handles for the purpose of escalating this campaign to reach as wide audiences as possible, and also help us sustain it for years to come.
For a campaign like this to succeed, it must have a good trigger and concept, strategy for driving it, set goals, timeline for all the deliverables, and beyond these, it must have a good budget for prosecuting it in order to achieve success, because studies have shown that no campaign succeeds without a robust budget. So, do you have a budget to drive this campaign going forward?
Well, our budget is the goodwill of stakeholders. Our budget is the rich and authentic Rivers Brand. Our budget is the integrity and character of this present administration.
The campaign is built on people. Does the campaign have any measure to identify Rivers people who are involved in one enterprise or the other to project or drive this cause?
Part of the strategy is to create and project Brand Ambassadors. It is part of the strategy. We are going to create brand ambassadors. Not just Rivers people but even visitors to the state and friends of the state. So, it is part of the strategy.
The state under the present administration has been able to host so many events in politics, sports, economy, etc. Will you say that the efforts of the governor have been appreciated?
You should answer that question: If a man gets recognitions locally and internationally saying ‘you are doing well in governance’, what other appreciation are you asking for? It’s clear, at a point, all the major tabloids in this country were falling over themselves to give him awards, because, really, what is on ground, the quantum of what have been pumped into developing this state is legendary. And this is a fact. I say this with a deep sense of responsibility because this is what is on ground. There are those who rule their states on television but when you get there, there’s nothing on ground; not this governor. If he tells you, ‘I will build Fruit Garden Market’, on the next day, the bulldozers move in. If he tells you that ‘I will rebuild Mile One Market’, the next day, the contractors are mobilised to site.
And he is one governor that has said that he will not award a project he would not complete. As he is awarding a project, he is matching it with resources.
In this campaign, is there a role for sports?
Of course, you know that His Excellency is a sports loving governor, and there is no way you will be talking about his achievements as a governor without considering his legacies sports development. That’s why he is the Power of Sports (POS) in Africa. So, yes, sports will be an integral part of the campaign. You see, there are little things that people don’t recognise. You were here when the inauguration match was played; you were there at the stadium, all the notable stars in this country were there. You know, people take this kind of things for granted, you just hear or see that people came, but you won’t go deeper to probe, to ask: why did these people come? It’s just not that the governor is a sports loving governor, he is a man that has won the hearts and goodwill of Nigerians across a broad spectrum. So, even professional footballers, serving and retired are always willing to identify with him. That’s why all the Kanus of this world were here to celebrate the inauguration. And for us, it’s notable because there is no governor before now in this state that had been able to bring all these stars under one umbrella.
After the March elections, the governor was quoted as saying that politics and election were over, and that it was time for governance, and he actually invited the opposition to work with him. In your own assessment as a stakeholder in this administration, how far has this message gone down with the opposition?
It’s an ongoing process. The governor, if you are close to him, you will know that he is a large-hearted person. He means what he says. There are people who speak from both sides of their mouth, but not Governor Nyesom Wike. So, he is engaging every stakeholder to come on board. He means it, that’s why I said earlier, in some of the appointments he has made so far, people from the opposition parties are there. It has never been like that before. Here, it used to be the winner takes it all. But he is demonstrating that sportsmanship because of the kind of leader he is. A people’s leader sees everybody, whether opposition or not as his people. He means it when he says elections are over, and it’s time for governance, and governance in the state is for all Rivers people.
Just recently, the governor also said there are people who are getting sleepless nights just to make sure they pull down the government … Cuts in…
That doesn’t change his position that he has offered the olive branch. It doesn’t change that position. If that position changes, he will say it. But knowing his character, he has not changed that position.
From the body language, it is like those people are not really willing to come up?
You are the one saying the body language. A lot is happening. If you are conversant with governance, you will see that there are so many people that are hanging around Government House that were not there.
Let me take you back to the brand name. Don’t you think that “MyStateMyResponsibility” should have personalised the brand better than “OurStateOurResponsibility”?
“Our” is better, because if you say, “My” state, non-indigenes will be excluded. They will now say it is for Rivers people. But “Our” is for everybody living and doing business here. It is well conceived.
The brand campaign touches on cleanliness and neatness, taking Port Harcourt back to the glory of Garden City it was known for. And given that the Assembly has just passed a bill concerning street trading, what measures are you taking to cushion the effects?
The truth of the matter is that people have a penchant for disobeying the law. You live in Port Harcourt. Go to Creek Road Market, the stalls are empty but people are on the streets. It is a statement of fact. Now, the governor was saying today that the excuse people still hold is that they want to survive. Are you aware that most of the people that litter the streets of Port Harcourt come from neighbouring states that do business here, and then, jump into the bus later on by six o’clock and go back? We can’t afford to have that kind of system. Let me assure Rivers people that the governor has the political will to implement it. That’s why a law has been passed, and assented to today.
Already, 450 persons have been profiled by the Nigeria Police that will serve as taskforce police and they are going to work in two shifts, from morning till night. It is the first time in the history of this state that that kind of strategy will be used. The governor is saying if you want to do business, for example, somebody wants to sell cars, you come to the road. He says if you want to sell cars acquire a land, partition it, fence it out and sell your cars there. The streets should not be places where people would just come and litter. And so many things also would be happening in the area of environmental sanitation.
The challenge we have in the State is that people have the habit of polluting their environment. I was sharing with a few people the other day and I said to them we all were here when ‘War Against Indiscipline’ was launched in this country. You can’t just go anywhere and urinate no matter how pressed. You would queue. That’s where the queue culture became very strong in this country. You can’t just after eating your banana or whatever you are in a moving vehicle, you throw it away. What was it that made it work? It was the political will.
This government has the political will and in the next few weeks the results will begin to show, because there will be mobile courts. People will be tried summarily. If it is option of fine, you pay. If you can’t pay the fine, you go to prison. By the time one or two people go to prison, you will not see anybody on the road. And that is the kind of language Nigerians understand. This is a very beautiful city. We didn’t have it like this before. Port Harcourt used to be called Garden City.
Now, people want to turn it to Aba, and we can’t afford to do that. We are lucky in this State. Mile One Market is there, Mile Three Market is there, Creek Road is there, Town Market is there. I hope we know that there is a Town Market? It is there. We have two mechanic villages in this state. A lot of people have forgotten that there is one at Mile Three, there is one at Elekahia. Now, we have motor parks; we have the Abali Motor Park, we have the one at Mile Three and we have some other designated motor parks even outside the city centre. Anybody who is going to run anything to do with that kind of business should go to the designated areas and it is in the interest of the people.
If you go and board vehicles at the designated motor parks, danger is averted because you will not fall into the hands of hoodlums. In those motor parks, every vehicle is registered with the unions. People fall into the hands of hoodlums because they enter into vehicles along the road, and government is saying beyond building infrastructure and also for protection of lives and properties, go to designated places so that your lives will be safe. Do you know how many people whose whereabouts cannot be accounted for? Before in this State, it was difficult for you to see somebody doing ‘Aba, Aba’ along the road. You would go to the park. So, that is it.
What time limit are you giving this campaign, and what will your expectations be in the end?
What we are expecting from this campaign is a total behaviour change in those living and doing business in Rivers State and then also that Rivers State is projected positively to the outside world.
How long will this campaign last?
It is going to last for a long time because the various strategies will be coming in bits as we will be going on. So, I can’t say now it will last for one day, two days, one year or three years because it is something that has to be sustained. My own vision is that even after this government, in the next four years, the next government that comes should be able to have a plan to continue to push this agenda because we have a heritage as a people.
Buhari’s Refusal To Sign Electoral Act, Ploy To Manipulate Polls -Wike
Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike in a Special Appearance on Channels Television Sunrise Daily talks on the forthcoming elections, disqualification of Rivers APC to participate in the polls and sundry national issues.
On the disqualification of APC candidates in Rivers State, Is it possible that when it gets to appeal, it will turn things around?
It cannot be turned around. The law that we practise today is that they did not have any lawful primaries.
What happened is that we felt that, look, you have to comply with the provisions of the law and of course if you look at Section 71 of the Electoral Act and then Section 66(b) and Section 221, Section 106(d) and Section 176 of 1999 constitution as amended, what we merely did was to look for interpretation, that look, for you to sponsor candidate for election, there must be a valid or lawful primaries. And so, if a court has said that APC did not conduct a lawful or valid primaries and should not participate in the general election, so, we are not talking about any case of APC candidate. No, we are talking about the compliance with the provisions of the law.
So, your case wasn’t the APC. Why did you go to court?
We are not talking about candidate of APC, we are talking about what the law says. The law says, you must comply with certain provisions for you to participate in the general election. And the law says look, this party did not comply with the provisions of the law, and therefore, INEC if this party has not complied with the provisions of the law, can they still be recognized to participate in the 2019 general election? And this is what is provided in the Fourth Alteration of the 1999 constitution, No:21, Act 2017, which says that a political party can challenge INEC if INEC is not complying or carrying out what they are supposed to do. And that is why we came into.
But, if this was any other political party, will the PDP have gone to court?
If there is any other political party that has not complied with the provisions of the law and we know, of course, we will do this same thing. There is no special thing about it. We have complied, we have carried out our valid and lawful primaries, and so, we expect you as a political party to also comply. And if you don’t comply, you cannot participate with us.
So, the APC is challenging the competence of the law here. How do you view that?
But, we went to court merely for interpretation. But, you ask yourself, what type of interpretation? As we are saying, an interpretation of section 87 of the Electoral Act, 2010 as amended, section 221 sub-section 65(2b), section 106(b) and section 176 of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic as amended, whether APC being a political party seeking to nominate or sponsor candidates for the 2019 general elections into this offices, they are entitled to nominate or sponsor, without having a valid or lawful primaries for its aspirants. The court should Interpret this sections of the law of the Electoral Act and the constitution. Two, in view of the electoral act and the constitution, can INEC still allow APC to participate in view of the fact that they have not complied with the provisions of the electoral act and the constitution of not having a valid and lawful primaries. Thirdly, in view of the judgement of the State High Court that nullified the primaries of APC, which means there were no primaries abinitio. Having nullified the primaries, can they still be allowed to feature in the 2019 election. Now, what is your own contention? Their contention is that, look, these are internal affairs of the party, that PDP has no business. But, we said no. It has gone beyond internal affairs of the party. We are not interested on who become your candidate, we are talking about you complying with the provisions of the law. At least, do comply with the provisions of the law and if you are not allow to participate. We are not saying that this should be your candidate. That is not our business. And in doing that, we came under, if you look our judgement of the Supreme Court. Look at page 16 of the judgement of the court. And it is important for people to understand not just necessarily when you hear story, you say, oooh, PDP took APC to court.
Remember, on the 10th of October, 2018, the State High Court nullified the primaries of Now, also remember that there purported candidate, Tonye Cole sort means to apply to appeal that judgement as an interested party, because as at that time, he was not a party in the matter. Also, remember that there so called party Chairman who is a wanted person by the court who is suppose to be facing multiple murder trial so applied for leave to appeal that judgement, and in doing that, on the 23 of December, 2018. But if you look at the Fourth Alteration, No:21 Act of 2017, it allows that; once it is a pre-election, you must apply or you must appeal within 14 days the judgement is given. And the judgement was giving on the 10th of October and the so called candidate for the APC and their chairmanship candidate in quote applied after 23 days in which case, they applied out of time. Now, when they go to Court of Appeal, the man of the other side of the APC, filed a motion to say look, if the appeal filed, is incompetent. Why, because the judgement that was given was a content judgement and therefore they did not seek leave of court before the appeal and two that even those who are seeking to join to appeal, they have done that after the time, and therefore their appeals are defective.And the Court of Appeal presided over by Justice A, Abubakar said yes, it was out of time and that appeal was struck out. And the main appeal patterning the judgement of the 10th of October was dismissed on the ground that they didn’t seek leave since it was a consent judgement. Therefore, the judgement of the 10th of October giving by by the State High Court is still valid. They have appealed to Court of Appeal and lost. Now, what do we do as a party, we say look, if there were no primaries as heard by the court, can INEC still allow these people to still participate in the general election? It cannot allow them.
And part of the argument also is that at this point, the contest for your party to have come in at this stage has a missing link because they haven’t participated in an election with the person contesting against me.
No. That is not correct. First of all, every person who has that view does not know what the law said. Now, you have gone to court, court has given judgement. Whichever way you look at it, rightly or wrongly. What you have to say is that this was the facts of the case, or this judgement was that, these were not the issue, the judgement was judge beyond this and that, I don’t see it like that. And they went to appeal that judgement and they lost. Right now, look at what we are talking about. The law about us, we say no, we say section 285(14) of the 1999 constitution, fourth alteration No.21 Act 2017, says as follows; for the purpose of the section, pre-election matters means, any suit by; (1) an aspirant who complain that any of the provisions of the electoral act or any act of the National Assembly regulating the conduct of primary of political parties and provisions regarding to political parties for conducting party primaries have not been complied with by the political party in respect of the selection or nomination of primaries of elections; (2) an aspirant challenging the actions, decisions activities. Look at were we come in, (3) a political party challenging the actions, decisions or activities of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, disqualifying it’s candidate from participating in an election or a complain that the provisions of the electoral act or any other applicable law has not been complied with by the nomination of candidate of political party for an election time table, for election, registration of voters and other activities. So, we are a political party, and we are saying that, look APC has not complied with the provisions of the electoral act by holding valid and lawful primaries, and haven’t comply with that, you cannot with this qualify to participate in the 2019 election as far as this offices are concern.
But they have an option?
No, the point am saying is that, so when you say that PDP is an interloper. No, the court gives us that opportunity. As political party, we can say that INEC, this particular party in sponsoring it’s candidate did not comply with the provisions of the electoral act and the provisions of the constitution now.
Was there any intention that they were going to field candidates when the court has ruled otherwise that warranted your going to court?
First of all, we are members of the public. I know the court nullified their primaries and I want them not to participate in that election, which means that you cannot be part of what we are doing because you have failed to comply with what the law said that would enable you to sponsor candidates. So, it is not for him to say why should I not wait until after the election.
Your Excellency, there is concern that it’s as if the PDP sat back and was looking for avenues to underscore the activities of the APC considering they are afraid of war.
With all due respect, is there any election in the state that you will say APC has defeated PDP. Mention one.
What about the APC senators?
You want us to say what happened. You know and that is the more reason we accuse INEC and the security agencies. Take for example, INEC declared PDP candidate as the winner of the election and INEC certified result sheet. Then the APC went to tribunal. Police tendered original sheet of INEC. How did the police have the original result sheet. Police has original sheet, INEC also have.
But the matter got to court?
The point I am making. INEC has not even ask themselves question. We have the original sheet, how didÁ the police also have the original. There cannot be two originals. Which means, they compromised by printing two originals by giving one to police.
Was this one proven?
Well, we don’t criticize the judiciary. Once judgement is given, we abide by it. But what we are saying, it has never happened. That where a police report will be accepted above that of INEC and we don’t want that mistake to continue to happen. You can’t sit down and continue to complain.
It is not APC that seems to suggest to everybody that what you will do. But you have raised issues concerning security of the state especially leading up to the elections. And now that from every submission, the APC seems partly out of the game. That gives you free room to continue and there will be peace before, during and after the election.
Answer: No. In fact, let me tell you. All of us we know what APC had planned and it is in the public domain that APC does not want election in Rivers State. They will cause crisis so that the election will not take place the day other elections were supposed to take place in other states so that they will be able to bring in security to overcome the state and manipulate as they did in Osun State.
But, how do you justify that?
But it happened when we had a bye election. We all saw what happened. Just a bye election of state constituency. 122 units within the city and not even in rural area. The police aided the process. The electoral Commissioner from Akwa Ibom State who was one of those who came to supervise the election said he could not believe how APC aided by security carted away electoral materials. Unknown to them, he saw everything. I called the Commissioner of Police then, fortunately he is gone, Zaki Ahmed, I said I can’t believe this.
But isn’t this an attempt to get the APC out of the election, so that you can have fill.
No, it’s an attempt to put things right so that you must comply with the provisions of the law. It has come to the point that people will not keep quiet . Now, let me tell you, Buruji went to court against PDP, Buruji got judgement against PDP at the Federal High Court. INEC wrote to PDP that they are going to comply and uphold the judgement by the Federal High Court even though that Adetutu and his team had gone to the Court of Appeal. That is To tell you that INEC has various interpretations. Now, because it is PDP, INEC wrote they would comply the judgement of court.
Now, when its primaries of APC, the lawyers of the other faction write to INEC that you cannot recognize the candidates because the court has nullified the primaries, abinito, there are no candidates, so you cannot. You know what INEC did; INEC wrote to APC notifying them for their information of such a judgement, not telling them that they will comply. But for PDP, INEC wrote to PDP that they are going to comply with the judgement; that they are going to make sure that the judgement is implemented. But, when it was on APC, INEC wrote to APC notifying them that look there is such a judgement.
So, this is about the mode of operation of INEC?
That is why people don’t have confidence in them. If you look at the letter they wrote to APC on 22nd of November, 2018, they merely say that we are in receipt of this judgement from a man called Henry Bello informing us that this is the judgement of court and you must comply and therefore, they are now sending it to them for their own knowledge.
But His Excellency, what about Zamfara, INEC immediately told APC
No, it’s a different thing. It’s like you don’t also understand. Whose interest? Who are those who are saying that APC do not have candidates in Zamfara State? What they were saying is that there were no primaries in Zamfara State.
Even though they have gone to court to challenge it.
Look at the interpretation, when there are judgments against PDP, immediate enforcement and complied, when there are judgments against APC, we are studying the judgements. I am giving you an instance, a practical one. It happened at Ogun State. We expected INEC as an unbiased umpire, having done the same thing with PDP in the case of Ogun State, that the same thing has happened to APC, we are going to comply with the judgement. They did not do that, what they did was notifying them about the judgement, so you can now see.
Is it about the Senatorial election?
Yes, whether you like it or not, how come you have two original result sheets? How come that you as the person conducting the election, you have the original result sheet, all other people are supposed to have duplicates, the accredited copies, the green copy and the rest of them. Police will have copy of all that, the agents will have copies of all that. Now, INEC certified their original copy and under, what happened, police went and certified their own original. The question I am asking is that INEC, what’s going on? How come, was it that you printed two originals, is it supposed to be so?
How do you know the court done that?
Is you that say. Look, yes, we have gotten your complaint. We are worried about it, we can assure you that, that will not happen again. We want you to reassure the people, instead of you to keep quiet. How did they get the same serial number of the original of INEC and the same of the police. It means that they have gotten two originals and we must have to work at it. Look, let me tell you and that is what we are saying, if somebody lets you that this election is going to be free and fair, please, no, no, INEC cannot deceive me.
We are saying the court judgement in Rivers State now about APC, but you know some members are not going to participate, at this stage is going to be difficult for the APC to get to the court of Appeal and Supreme Court and sort itself and get a candidate.
No, no. it’s not correct. They have already got to the Court of Appeal and lost, they have appealed to the Supreme Court. What the court did was to give the intricacy of the judgement of the High Court. That was all.
But the party is still going to appeal?
It’s the same thing. What we are saying is that look, based on the judgement that nullified the primaries which means, there was no valid primaries or lawful primaries as it were and therefore, if there is no valid or lawful primaries, you cannot participate in the general election.
Then for those who feel that if you say that you have participated in several elections with the APC and won them, why then do you go to court and want them out of this election.
No, it’s not me wanting them not to participate , it’s you not complying with the law. If you’ve gone to participate in an election, the law says, for you to participate in it, you must do this, and I have complied and for you to participate, you must do this, you must do that, did I say don’t comply. Why do people say it is me that has caused their problem?
What happens to their supporters?
There must be other options. Support any other parties. We have no quarrel about that. What we are saying is that look, for you, you refused to comply with the law . If we will comply, you must comply.
But, we know how politics is in Rivers State, what if at the end of the day, you have a lot of protestations and perhaps because of some sort of stalemate elections don’t hold as scheduled, would that not affect you?
Do you know part of the ground plan is to make sure election did not hold at the same time with other states. That is the background design with the collaboration with of security agencies.
Who is making the back ground plan?
The APC and the government. You all know. With all due respect, the new Commissioner of Police came to pay me a courtesy call and he said he will be professional. And I said, please, please I am tired of this professionalism. All I want you to do for us is, fight crime, fight cultism, fight kidnapping, but don’t tell me you will not come here and side APC. Don’t tell me that story. I don’t require that, I am not going to sleep for you to tell me that you’re going to be neutral. How?
Did he tell you that he is going to be neutral?
He said so, but even at that, I will tell him, you don’t make me to go and sleep to tell me you are going to be neutral.
We believe that there are going to be security challenges in the state, but that challenges is now politician?
No, no, no. Right from day one, that is what they have attributed the security threat to. Look, let me tell you something, I know you are aware people invaded the court, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN said that matter must be investigated. You are aware. Has police investigated that matter uptil today? Because they know that people invaded the court, the temple of justice. Uptil today, the police has not investigated that. I was watching the News , the President was standing when they were giving flags to their so called candidates. The so called APC Chairman whom the court had declared wanted for multiple murder trial was standing where the President of the country was standing. A person declared wanted by the court for multiple murder trial. The police gave him security movement, the police has been ordered to arrest the man for the murder trial, yet the man is moving with security. What is that telling you? Are you tell me to sit down? Take for example, I am a sitting governor for Christ sake, no Chief of Army staff can say I have ever one day since I became a governor requested for a soldier . I don’t need it. But you see those politicians, you are sitting here, you see them with troops of soldiers moving about. And I said what is going on in this country. We have reduced ourselves to the point that ordinary politicians, you see platoon of soldiers moving with them.
When they were in opposition, didn’t your party use them?
It’s not correct. I challenge you. You know it is not easy. Assuming it was so, though not correct. If it was so, and you say you want to make it change, do you think you must continue with that pattern? If you are saying that you are giving a change, these things were not done right till now and then instead of you to change that, you are continuing with that, so, where is the change?
You are saying that the process is not going to work out, that the elections are going to be compromised. Why do you say that the election is going to be compromised?
Now, let me tell you something. You remember the 6th division created. The headquarters of the 6th division is here in Port Harcourt. Then I hear they have a new GOC. Rivers State government played a major role to commence that 6th division. Rivers State government played a major role in terms of providing accommodation and the rest of them. Do you know that as I sit here, the so called GOC who is sitting in my own state, where we have provided them virtually everything for them for the 6th division to take off, he has gone to visit my colleague in Akwa-Ibom State, he has gone to visit Delta State. Do you know that the GOC has never deemed it necessary to pay a courtesy call on the Governor of the state where the headquarters of the division is?
Isn’t it that professional?
Is that professional? That courtesy demands that you cannot pay a courtesy visit on the seat of government. . If they are posting, they say he must report to the Ministry of Transportation first, if it come to CP, you must report there first. When the last Commissioner of Police, Zaki Ahmed was going, I said, I told you, they are going to use you and dump you at the appropriate time. They sent one Cross River boy here, a Brigadier General who came and carried out the functions he was instructed by the army headquarters on our Neighborhood security. What happened, Neighborhood security was a creation of law. We were not the first state that started this community policing. We took it from Lagos State. Police and DSS are not members of the board. Here, we included them members of the board. In order to go far those that we employed were to be trained by the security agency. And so, during this period, they got approval to go to NYSC camp, government camp, federal government camp for training. They wrote to Nigerian Army to send instructors and they acknowledged, they wrote to police, they wrote to the DSS, then people were all there. What happened, they sent the soldiers to chase everybody away that we are training militia. You train militia in government camp? You train militia by writing to the army to send instructors, you train militia by writing the DSS and police. No, the Brigadier General, he was very happy and when he invaded the camp. After completing the assignment, he has been sent to Kontagora. He is from Cross River State. When he was leaving, he wanted to see me I said no, I don’t see agents of satan. Now look what happened in Edo State, the army were there, look at what happened in Kogi State. Come to Rivers State, which was a creation of law, then you came to say we are creating militia. The point we are saying, they cannot deceive me. So you are sitting here and you see a GOC who believes that he has a specific assignment.
Why do you come to that conclusion?
Is not that I got to a conclusion. It’s very clear. First of all he ensured that by making sure that Neighborhood Watch does not exist, that is the politics. Two, he came to a state where you have the headquarters and you don’t know that courtesy demands you must pay respect to the authority that I am the new GOC, I am here now. And you want to tell me that nothing is going on.
Is it possible for Rivers State to have a peaceful elections.
I have always say that INEC and Security are the cause of violence Rivers State. People say politicians are the ones causing trouble, which is not true. If I come to you for example to do what is unlawful, must you do it? I go to INEC and say INEC come and do this for me, are you under any obligation to do it?
Assuming they do?
We Rivers people are always very peaceful, law abiding. The only time we have crisis is when we see the electoral umpire being biased and and the security operatives trying to manipulate the freedom of a political party which we will continue to resist.
Is it a political party or individual politicians within a party?
APC are in power right, the security apparatus is working for them. For Instance, they called the IG and say there is no way as a government at the center, we cannot control one of the states in the south south . Therefore we are looking at Akwa-Ibom and Rivers State, make sure you work out the modalities. As a good IG, you will say sir, I have no role to play but my role is to make sure we protect people to vote. As a Governor some many people have come to me, why don’t you go have a deal with the Federal Government so that you will have your way smoothly . But why would I do? Must I be a Governor forever?
Does the peace accord mean anything to your party?
That is a ceremony . I don’t like those ceremonies. All those things are mere public display.
You don’t dance to it?
As an individual no. This Peace Accord doesn’t work. Truly if you want us to have non violent elections, those to sign the peace accord are INEC and security agencies because they are the ones that create the environment for violence. If INEC doesn’t support APC and do their job for example, would there be crisis?
You believe that there is no sincerity of purpose from government to ensure that….
Infact I was shocked and surprised that the President refused to sign the electoral act into law. I remember vividly in my matter when we went to court, the Supreme Court acknowledged that the card reader is an innovation and it will help us to move to the next stage of our election process . But it is not backed up by law. Therefore, there is now need to amend the electoral act to bring this card reader that will in a way reduce the level of fraud . Now the legislature has come up with a law to authenticate the card reader, you refused to sign it. A process that you said helped you to win election.
He didn’t say that he’s opposed to the card reader
That the President has refused to sign the electoral act is purely to manipulate the 2019 election. All of us know. It is not about coming to television to tell me you will create a legacy of free and fair elections, when you have refused to sign what will enable us to have free and fair elections.
The President gave his reasons
With all due respect, it is not correct. The National Assembly corrected the electoral act after the presidency complained. The second time, you complained that the National Assembly mixed up issues and the interpretations will be difficult. What is your business? That is why there is always an amendment.
But the Card Reader is there?
It is not backed by law. What is there is manual. The law said it is manual. All these things Mahmoud is saying is neither there nor here. INEC guideline cannot take the place of the law.
Why did you terminate the contract and concessions of Subsidiaries for Sahara Energy ?
When will you do it that It will not be political? In 2015, we set up a commission of inquiry, they came up with a white paper report and indicted the former Governor. He went to court, lost at the High court and Court of Appeal. He refused to file his brief at that Supreme Court and we filed that the Appeal should be struck out for onward prosecution and he went and filed his brief. The Attorney General said we should begin to implement the White paper because there is no stay for us not to implement the White paper then the Attorney General died. Having buried him, we appointed a new Attorney General and he needs time to study it and having studied it he said we can go ahead and start implementing the white paper. So even if you do it after election, it will still be because the man contested against you.
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